Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Prosperous Writer - Ethical

Oh, boy!  Am I excited or what!!!  Christina Katz discusses being ethical in The Prosperous Writer this week, and I’ve been giving ethics a lot of thought lately!  You’ve got to love it when that happens!

Last week, a friend told me about an ethical dilemma that had arisen at her work.  She was in her own ethical dilemma over how to handle someone else’s unethical behavior. Behavior that impacted her life and her ability to do her job.  She felt it necessary she do something.  She devised a plan.  It didn’t quite work out the way she’d hoped.  It can be hard to handle it when someone else’s lack of ethics appears to get rewarded and your attempt to do the ethical thing about it gets “punished”.

I know someone who has been downloading movies that by my definition are “pirated”.  I’ve expressed my discomfort with this explaining that “stealing is stealing” and there’s no splitting hairs.  Just because it’s “interesting” technology doesn’t make it right.  As a writer, I make most of my money from royalties, so I have a particularly strong aversion to copyright infringement.  I see the person’s behavior as unethical, and if I kept quiet then I would feel like I was betraying my own ethics.

This week I became immersed in a discussion about reviews.  Someone asked me why I don’t charge for the reviews I write.  My response was simple “It’s unethical.”  The person asking didn’t understand this at all, so I further explained.  I don’t charge for reviews because even if getting paid didn’t create a bias, it gives the appearance of a bias and has the potential to create expectations on the part of the author/publisher.  The person pointed out that my time and effort is valuable.  I couldn’t argue with that point.  Still, I refuse to entertain that as a reason to charge for reviews.  When someone requests a review, they provide a free book (that’s payment in and of itself to a booklover like me.) and I provide a link to the book on my Amazon Associates Account which means if someone clicks through my review to buy the book, I make a small percentage on the sale.  For reviews, that’s enough to satisfy me.  Besides writing reviews helps out fellow authors and reminds people that I’m an author, so it’s all good.

Most of the time, we don’t really think about our ethics.  We just live them.  Last Fall a relatively new friend pointed out that I was too ethical to live with myself if I took the action I proposed in a moment of anger and frustration.  It was just one of those “I ought to just…” moments.  Well, whatever.  I don’t even remember what it was now.  I just remember her response because for some strange reason I was surprised she saw me as that ethical.  I almost felt like saying “No, no, no.  I’m not really.” because I immediately started thinking of every minor transgression I’ve committed in my life.  Considering myself “too ethical” for a behavior felt… oddly too self-righteous.  And, I hate self-righteous.  After I thought about it a minute though, I realized that’s not what she meant.  She was simply pointing out that my sense of ethics and morals is strong, and I don’t break them easily.  I’m not perfect, so, of course, I have moments of being less than ethical.  We all do.  Anyone who says they don’t is lying proving they have moments of being unethical.  We each have to define our own ethics and live them to the best of our ability.

Christina spoke of being “honest, first with yourself, then with others” in order to be ethical.   She’s right, ethical behavior begins with honesty with one’s self and with others.  The more honest one is about what they view as right and wrong, the easier it is for one to embrace right and wrong in life and live according to those ethics.  When one lives up to one’s ethics, one is more confident and secure.  I believe that honesty includes avoiding becoming self-righteous or so rigid one can’t see beyond ethical behavior to humanity.  We’ve all known someone who we saw as ethical but who also was so rigid they couldn’t give an inch to find compassion.  We’ve all known someone who was so self-righteous they spent all their time judging other people’s lack of ethics.  I don’t find either behavior particularly ethical, but I’m sure if you asked these people if they were ethical, they would say absolutely.

Christina also said “…what is socially convenient is not always ethical.”  Man, now, there’s a truth and a half.  It’s often more convenient to keep your mouth shut when someone says something derrogative to or about someone else.  It’s often more convenient to just let someone rail against someone else even going to the point of using words to harm rather than to encourage civil discourse.  It’s often more convenient to let people get away with misrepresenting the facts or a situation than it is to call them on it and risk a fight.  It’s often more convenient when a friend tells you something and you hear a dozen things that trigger alarms in your head to ignore the alarms rather than risk the friendship by sharing an observation, insight, or experience that might actually help.

Sometimes what feels good isn’t ethical, but being unethical almost always feels bad either in the moment or later.  If you feel bad saying or doing something, it’s time to stop and examine why.  If something feels good in the moment but not when you find yourself alone with your thoughts, you’ve likely violated your ethics.  Find a way to fix the violation if possible.  This can mean an apology, taking action to correct a mistake, or simply vowing to do better next time depending on the situation.  Once you find your way back to your ethics after a violation, you’ll find your life balance again.

This is all true in writing as well.  As a writer who tackles social issues, there are times when I find myself holding back because I don’t want to push people away or make people angry with me.  This is unethical because I’m not being true to myself or my work  Those times usually don’t last very long, but when they do I always have to remind myself how important it is to be true to myself and my ethical standards.  As part of my ethics as a writer, I believe it’s important to state what I have to say with honesty and integrity at all times.  I also believe it’s important to create the best possible work I can create.  While I have the right to say whatever I want to say, I also believe that what comes along with that right is the responsibility for the impact of my words.  As a part of that, I always remind myself that ”Words have the power to change the world, so use them wisely.”

To me, ethics are never an option nor should they be so rigid we are unable to learn from life.  Growth comes from holding firm to our ethics while allowing ourselves the room to feel compassion, understanding, and love for others.  We also must be flexible enough to recognize when the changes in standards of business aren’t unethical but are growth.  Sometimes this is difficult because we confuse ethics with the idea that something should continue just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

Ethics provide us tools to interact in this world within boundaries that allow us to disagree with civility, agree without self-righteousness, and eventually find common ground.  We move forward when we know, understand, and respect our ethical boundaries.  Our ethics provide us a place to return to find our true selves and to live the lives we want to live.  When we live up to our ethics, we are more balanced individuals and writers alike.

So shall we embrace our ethics together?

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Prosperous Writer - Professionalism

This week Christina Katz tackles professionalism in The Prosperous Writer.

Most of us would never ask a professional to do their work for free.  Writers are often told they should write for the love of writing and money should be a secondary concern.  How many times are poets encouraged to “give” their poetry to a magazine or journal for the “exposure”?  How often do people ask authors to give them copies of their books as if the work they  put into creating their work is somehow less important than other jobs?  I think this mentality can create doubt in the mind of the most productive artists.  We, as artists, have a tendency to go along with it rather than stand up and say “I worked hard on that.  Is the time, effort, research, and skill I put into creating that product worth less than the work you do each day?”
When I published my novel, All She Ever Wanted , I was bombarded with people wanting free copies.  I heard every reason in the book.  Mostly, it boiled down to two things.  One was that it was “just a book”.  The second was their relationship with me entitled them to a freebie.  What this said to me was that the people didn’t see me as a professional.  So, I tried to respond as professionally as I could by telling them I had a policy to not give away books because writing and selling books was the way I earn a living.  For some people, this was enough.  Others were offended.  I can’t tell you how many times I heard “But it’s me… It’s just one book.”

This experience prompted me to look at my attitude.  Was I projecting a professional attitude?  Or was my attitude apologetic for my choice of career?  Or was my attitude projecting a lack of confidence?  I thought I felt professional.  I thought I acted professional. I thought I projected professionalism.  Yet, this question continued to plague me.

I finally got up the courage to ask one of published friends if people acted this way toward her.  She said some did, but that she didn’t take it personally because people are always looking for freebies.  I realized that the more I’d been asked the question, the more I’d allowed self-doubt to creep in, and self-doubt bred a decline in my professionalism.

After our talk, I started projecting an attitude of professionalism again.  I started selling books again.  People started placing value on my other writing as well.  I’m not saying people stopped asking me to give my work to them, but it happened less frequently.

Sometimes people think professionalism is about being perfect or never letting the world see you have faults.  I’ve discovered this isn’t true.  Sometimes the most professional people are the ones who can acknowledge a fault or a mistake.  They are the people who are human but avoid taking their bad day out on someone else.  They are the ones who can say “I don’t have that answer, but I’ll find it and get back to you.” instead of making up some answer all parties know is untrue.  They are the ones who can say “Oops!  I made a mistake.  Let me fix that right now.”
Another point to being professional as a writer is to put value on your work even if no one else is yet.  If you don’t value your time, effort and product, how can anyone else?  I’m a strong believer that if we can’t see our own value, no one else can either.  Think about your work and what it means to you.  Think about what you’d pay for work similar to your own.  I write a marketing and publicity plan for every book I write, so I can see who the audience is, what value my work offers to the world, and who potential publishers may be.  Mostly, it lets me know if the work is ready for publication - or at least submission.  This helps me hone in on its value.
In order to be professional one must project professionalism.  I believe one CAN be professional in attitude even if one isn’t earning a living through one’s writing. The more genuinely professional one is, the more seriously one is taken, and the more money one makes from his/her work.

Professionalism is about behaving in a way that gives other people confidence in your abilities and your work.  Professionalism builds out of the confidence you feel about your achievements.  If you feel pride in the work you do, professionalism is much easier to feel and project.  If you are ashamed of your work or if you see yourself as “struggling”, you will continue to struggle.  You must be able to see yourself as you want to be in order to reach that goal.  So, if you don’t feel professional today, imagine how it will feel to be professional and embrace that.  Figure out how you can feel like a professional writer every day.  Then do the work to achieve that goal!  And, don’t forget it starts with placing value on your own work!!!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vulnerability, I Once Considered You a Curse Word

Sometime in the first few weeks of 2010 I set a personal goal that scared me more than any goal I’d ever set in my life.  I decided to allow myself - no, let’s go a step farther - to make myself vulnerable.  I’ve always been known for speaking my mind, but I’m not always good at expressing my innermost feelings.  This would surprise some people who probably don’t understand that for me speaking my mind and expressing my emotions is two VERY different things.

I have no problem giving you my opinion about anything or helping you analyze a problem.  I can even discuss the emotional ramifications related to the problem with ease.  I can discuss the ins and outs of your personal problems, politics, religion, current issues, and myriad other things without hesitation.  I don’t even care if we disagree.  Either I’ll learn something new or I’ll share something that helps you better understand my point of view.  Perhaps we’ll even find a solution to some problem or the other.  I can do that for hours.
I’m even fairly good at letting people know I care about them.  Okay, not great if I’m unsure how they feel about me, but still….  I worked on that this year.  While I wasn’t perfect, I got a little better.

I’m not very good at letting people know when something they’ve said or done hurts me deeply.  Those things I tend to keep deep inside for fear of coming off as a drama queen or exposing a vulnerability someone can use against me.  I may react in the moment, but even that will be controlled.  I may show you anger, but the pain attached I’ll bury inside.  Anger doesn’t make me feel vulnerable.  Letting you see what hurts me does, so that I will disguise.  If anger doesn’t work, I’ll go silent.  Silence is when you should worry.  I know this about myself.  Silence means you’ve cut deeper than you can mend.  It’s a pain that will live in my heart and mind if not forever at least for a very long time.  It’s a pain that will change the way I view you, perhaps even the way I feel about you, and will most likely irrevocably change our relationship.
Silence doesn’t necessarily mean I quit talking to you completely.  It may mean I change the way I talk to you.  Our conversations will become superficial.  The things that truly matter to me will no longer be yours to know.  My deepest emotions will no longer be yours to share.  I will guard myself from giving you ammunition to hurt me again.  It may also mean that I will respond when you initiate, but I will no longer initiate contact.  It may also mean I quit talking to you altogether.

Oh, and tears may accompany both extreme anger and silence.  If you’ve hurt me enough to bring me to tears, well, my best advice to you is to quietly slink away and wait for me to decide what comes next.  Above all, keep your mouth shut.  Anything you say is likely to only make matters worse.  In this situation the words “You misunderstood….  That’s not what I meant…  You’re being too sensitive… I was just being honest”  should not pass your lips - probably would be best if you don’t even think them if you’re anywhere near me.  It’s unlikely “I’m sorry” will even receive anything more than a murderous glare.  I’m just saying…

Long ago, I learned to avoid giving people this ammunition while letting them think I was open emotionally.  I became quite adept at allowing people to think they knew everything about me while still guarding the things I valued most.  This protects me from getting hurt, but it also stands in the way of being truly close to anyone.  Many friends have accused me of having a tendency to get close and then pull away completely and often suddenly.  I can’t argue with them.  When a relationship gets too comfortable, my first instinct is to run and hide. My second is to do or say something to see if the person will run away.  My third is to test the waters and share something that could make me a tad vulnerable - not too vulnerable just a tad.  If I don’t like the person’s reaction, I’m outta there.

I don’t trust easily.  If I ever tell you I trust you, it just might be the most vulnerable thing I can do.  It just might mean more than if I said I love you.  It just might be a surprise even to me.  Oh, and if you break that trust after I’ve given it to you, there’s likely no going back.  See above paragraphs on anger, silence, and tears, especially tears….

Okay, so back to this year.  I decided to make myself more vulnerable and to do so publicly to some extent.  Part of this was to be more honest with myself, to be more honest with those around me, and to post feelings or beliefs that made me FEEL vulnerable on Facebook as well as to blog about them.  The goal was to see if my life would be enriched, devastated, or unchanged by the exercise.  I took a deep breath and started my experiment.  One year of making myself more vulnerable.  Oh, and as part of the vulnerability experiment, I had to do this without telling people I was actively making myself more vulnerable.  I did eventually have to tell a few people when certain concerns needed to be addressed.

It didn’t take long for me to ask myself what the hell I’d gotten myself into, but I didn’t quit.  I’m no quitter.
My first move was a rather safe one.  I told my friend, Kelly, I loved her.  Okay, not so big of a risk because I know Kelly loves me, and she isn’t afraid of expressing her love for others.  BUT, I said it FIRST.  I heard the surprise in her voice as she responded, but she didn’t question me.
My next one was easy, too.  I told my friend, Lori, I loved her.  I dropped the comment in casually but deliberately at the end of a conversation.  Once again, I knew Lori loved me, so the risk was minimal. I also know she doesn’t express her emotions quite as easily as Kelly does.  She’s a bit more guarded, like me.  Still, she responded in kind even if she also sounded a bit confused.

Okay, I decided to move to something harder.
For a long time I’d wanted to apologize to someone from my past, but I feared making the initial contact to open the lines of communication.  (See Apologies: Better Late Than Never?)  Anyway, I decided to take the risk even though it made me feel more vulnerable than I had in years.  I found him on Facebook.  I hovered the pointer over “add as friend” for a long time before I finally clicked on it.  My heart pounded and I asked myself “What’s the worst that can happen?”  At that question, I started to rescind the invitation.  Instead, I shut down my computer.  The next morning I awoke with every intention of rescinding the invitation because I feared he would either not accept, refuse the apology I planned to give if he accepted the friend invitation, or demand an explanation I didn’t have.  Too late!!!  He’d accepted my friendship request and sent me a message in which he actually sounded happy to hear from me.  That response hadn’t figured into my list of possibilities at all!!!  Now what to do…

Over the next several months I practiced being more vulnerable.  I made apologies.  I expressed how I felt.  I posted my “truth” on Facebook instead of what I thought made me look good.  I wrote blog posts about what I felt especially when I couldn’t express those emotions to the person in question, or when I needed to figure out what I felt or what was happening.  I talked to my close friends about the things that hurt me.  I even asked for help!!  I let go of the image I believed I’d cultivated that I lived some unbelievably perfect life.  Some of my friends actually sighed with relief!!  I started letting my sense of humor out to play, and people laughed!!!

I sent a “Thank you” message (20 years overdue) to a friend who intervened at a particularly self-destructive point in my life and saved my life.  This resulted in a very nice note from him as well as him reaching out and encouraging his friends to let the people in their lives know if they’d made a difference.

I told people when they hurt me - well, sometimes.  I wasn’t anywhere near perfect in this process.  There are few things I still haven’t found the courage to fully express but I’ve tried.

Eventually, it actually became easier to be vulnerable, and I actually felt more genuine.  I felt like I was being true to myself, like I’d been freed from a self-imposed exile from the world.  If this kind of closeness, lightness, and laughter could come from being vulnerable, it just might be worth it.

I also got hurt…  Unforgettable words were spoken that crushed my ego, caused me to doubt myself, and created doubt about important relationships.  People didn’t live up to some set of expectations I didn’t even know I’d set for them until I felt the disappointment that they weren’t what I expected.

Even with that pain, my friendships grew stronger.  I came to realize people genuinely cared about me and my life.  I came to realize that I didn’t have to be perfect for my friends to want me in their lives.  I came to realize I could laugh even when life hurt.

I learned that making myself vulnerable is one thing, but expressing myself and hurting someone else is something entirely different.  Sometimes it’s easy to use not wanting to hurt someone else as an excuse for not expressing what will make me vulnerable.  Sometimes my vulnerabilities have been exposed when other people expressed things under the guise of just being honest and sharing themselves.

People aren’t nearly as hard on me as I am on myself.  When I make myself vulnerable, people tell me they care!!  When I give love, I receive love!  When I express the truth in my heart, truth lives in my life.

Sometimes that truth isn’t what one expects and sometimes it hurts, but at least it’s honest.  Honest pain is better than dishonest happiness.  Well, that sounds good, but I’m still having a hard time grasping that one.
My writing even improved.  When I struggled to express an emotion or to figure out what I was feeling, the words flowed into poems and stories.  I wrote more poems in the last year than I had in several years combined!  I started several pieces that didn’t go anywhere, but they started.  I started a new, deeply emotional short story.  I worked on a short story I’d started and abandoned the previous year.  I worked on my novel again.  I blogged.  I wrote reviews.  I shared my poetry.  I wrote and wrote and wrote.  And, it felt GREAT!!

I remembered my past without feeling like it would consume me or strangle me.  I embraced the present and let today’s knowledge guide the words to express yesterday’s experience.  I looked toward the future and thought about what was best for me.  I let words be my guide and embraced who I was, who I am, and who I will be.

I wrote so many blog posts this year that explore my experiment with vulnerability.  I wanted to link to them all, but there are just too many.  There’s an exploration of expectations.  Many of The Prosperous Writer posts talk about my vulnerabilities.  Other blog posts talk about events, large and small.  Some talk about emotions and revelations that bubbled to the surface.  In the end, I’ve decided to only highlight a few.  A sampling: Another Thought on Goodbye, The Destruction of Hate, Creativity Creators and Drains, Asking for Help, Changing for Others’ Happiness, Setting Rules, Boundaries, & Limitations: A Tribute to TJ .  Okay, that hits a few of the posts that touch on vulnerability. There are many others, so feel free to check out the entire year’s worth of posts as many of them touch on my vulnerability experiment and others clearly demonstrate my avoidance of dealing with the issue of vulnerability.

I no longer consider vulnerability a curse word.  I embrace it as another part of life.  Vulnerability has the power to help us grow closer to one another as well as to rip us apart though I think way too often we focus on the latter.  No one likes to feel the pain vulnerability can bring, but do we really want to miss the joys vulnerability can bring to protect ourselves from potential pain?  I’ve decided I don’t.  You may have to remind me of this decision from time to time, but that’s okay.  I’m not perfect, and I’m okay with that.

I invite you to be vulnerable with me!!!